Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Roger A. Hart

Subject Categories

Geography | Psychology | Urban Studies and Planning


children, common space, india, urban poor settlements, women


Housing and basic services in urban poor settlements have been the focus of bi-lateral agencies, national governments as well as NGOs and CBOs. However, little attention has been paid to understanding the value of "common spaces" in these settlements, or in the planning and design of "common spaces" in upgraded or redeveloped settlements. Common spaces include communal areas like childcare and play facilities, religious and cultural establishments, shops, physical infrastructure like roads and sanitation, and informal spaces like courtyards, steps, lanes, and corridors where women perform daily chores and interact and children play. This dissertation focuses on understanding the significance that families, particularly women and children, living in poor urban communities in India give to common space in their settlements.

This study was carried out in the Indian cities of Bangalore and Mumbai in partnership with an organization called "The Alliance", the largest and most successful NGO- CBO partnership in India for the organized participatory development of slums. Individual interviews, group tours, and focus groups with women and children were used to investigate the meaning, use, and value of common spaces in eight urban poor settlements at various stages of the redevelopment process. In addition, key stakeholders in the urban redevelopment process such as politicians, municipal officers, planning officials, and members of The Alliance were also interviewed to better understand how political and institutional forces shape common spaces.

The study finds that common spaces are recognized for their utilitarian value, but rarely for their `common' or shared nature. In existing settlements, spaces adjoining homes, small shops, religious spaces, and community meeting rooms all support women and children in their work, play and socialization activities. However, poor access to basic services such as water, sanitation and drainage, and unpaved streets render many of these spaces unusable, unhealthy, or conflict-laden. In extremely dense settlements very narrow streets do little to support daily activities and hinder the movement and gathering of people. Residents living in redeveloped housing value common spaces such as wide corridors, entrance-steps, terraces, community meeting rooms, and religious spaces as they provide opportunities for children's play, social interaction, and special occasions such as weddings. However, resident aspirations to live like the middle-class often lead to self-imposed restrictions on the use of these common spaces for activities like informal socialization or for personal household chores. In both existing and redeveloped settlements children's play tends to occur in the common spaces and is often the reason for tension and discord between residents.

Most participants in the study requested that common spaces like playground and parks, childcare centers, study rooms, libraries, training centers, community meeting rooms, shops, and religious spaces be included in current or new housing. A key finding was that upgrading moderately dense settlements in a holistic manner is a crucial step for preserving and encouraging time-tested spatialities of housing that support the diverse needs of poor people and resident participation in the process is crucial to achieve this. In addition, a number of key principals for the successful development of common spaces in urban poor settlements were identified: encouraging large tract redevelopments instead of pocket-sized efforts, recognizing existing common spaces at the start of the planning process, and aiming to preserve long-term relationships by more sensitive allocation of housing.